Last semester, during the COVID-19 lockdown, I took a pro seminar titled the Moral Dimensions of Harm. We were a small group which allowed for dynamic discussions despite Zoom constraints.
In countering COVID-19, Austria locked down early, and restrictions were tight. Being outside of your home was only permitted for essential work, to buy food, or to help others. Gatherings of more than five people weren’t allowed.
In a seminar about harm, it was only natural that much of our discussion revolved around the pandemic and subsequent lockdown. For example, as lockdown restrictions thwarted individual interests – a common definition of harm – was the response morally justified?
Another issue raised was regarding citizens responsibility to protect common-pool resources like the public healthcare system. A key reason for the lockdown was to protect critical healthcare infrastructure.
This justification established a de facto new standard of personal responsibility regarding the healthcare system. Before COVID-19 individuals’ duties were limited to financing the system through taxes and insurance contributions. No obligations were placed on not becoming ill and thereby needing medical attention. Since COVID-19 under certain circumstances citizens now have a duty to remain healthy and place fewer demands on the healthcare system.
Unfortunately, the Austrian healthcare system, like many other healthcare systems in Europe, is overburdened. The majority of healthcare costs are directly attributed to preventable chronic illness such as Type II diabetes and high blood pressure. Being overweight is a key contributor to both ailments much of this in turn is a result of poor nutrition and lack of exercise.
Just as we are faced with a corona pandemic we are also faced with an obesity epidemic. If protecting the healthcare system justifies curtailing personal liberty in the case of COVID-19, can the same justification be applied to countering the obesity epidemic?
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